‘I’m the guy who just shot four people,’ Penticton mass murderer told police minutes after last killing | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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‘I’m the guy who just shot four people,’ Penticton mass murderer told police minutes after last killing

John Brittain is escorted from the RCMP detachment in Penticton, B.C., Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in a still image made from video footage.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amy Smart
October 14, 2020 - 1:02 PM

The man behind a shocking 2019 Penticton killing spree said his violent actions were set into motion years earlier by a neighbourhood conflict that became increasingly ugly.

“To be honest I did not want to do this… I just thought there had to be a better way, but there didn’t appear to be a better way,” John Brittain told police in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting, Crown counsel Colin Forsyth told the court today, Oct. 14.

His intent, he told police, was to save his ex-wife from neighbourhood “bullying” that he claimed was born from “greed or malice or too much free time on (the victims’ hands.)”

“Who knows,” Brittain told police. “I got the sense she was kind of picked on.”

Brittain seemed calm and collected as he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in connection with the April 15, 2019 fatal shootings of Rudi Winter, Barry and Susan Wonch, and Darlene Knippelberg. All were neighbours of his ex-wife Katherine Brittain.

The couple divorced in 2014, but the acrimonious relationship Katherine had with her neighbours started in 2015 when Winter, 71, cut down a tree located in his yard.

Forsyth explained to the court Katherine regularly made complaints to the City of Penticton for a number of issues, none of which seemed terribly serious. For example, the court heard her problems with Winter included smoke coming from his chimney onto her property, creating unwanted odours.

The Wonches, she complained, sold old furniture from their home and parked vehicles in front of her house to antagonize her. 

If there was more, the court did not hear. Forsyth, however, said that by April of 2019 the relationship between Katherine and her neighbours was very troubled.

“The reason he killed the victims was to stop those people from bothering (his ex wife) Katherine Brittain,” Forsyth said. He earlier had clarified that this was Brittain’s perception, not the view of the Crown.

“He said their (harassing) and picking on Katherine had been going on for years and he’d been hearing about it for years," Forsyth said. One day, returning from work, Brittain saw Winter’s vehicle at around 10:30 a.m. and he “snapped.”

He said Katherine was never aware of his actions.

Brittain’s perceptions, as expressed to police, didn’t sit well with friends and family of the victims. In court today, they cried, shouted out things like “that’s a lie” and were clearly aggravated by the descriptions of their slain loved ones who were gunned down while carrying out banal daily activities.

In their victim impact statements, the loved ones of the Wonches, Winter and Knippelberg all remembered them for being kind, supportive family members who were living out their retirement years in peace. They are haunted and scarred by the senseless crime.

The most pointed statement came from Winter’s daughter Tanya Steele, who addressed Brittain directly.

“We know Katherine made you do it — you should just man up and tell the truth,” Steele said to Brittain.

In response, Brittain said there was no evidence of that and “Kathy didn’t make me do it.”

Brittain’s account of his actions was that on that day, he was doing some irrigation work when he saw Winter across the street.

Forsyth said Brittain told police he went into his home, grabbed a rifle from a cardboard box he’d been storing it in, loaded ammunition that had been stored in a linen closet and went across the street.

He was about 12 feet away from Winter, who was was unaware of his approach when Brittain called out his name. 

“As he was starting to turn around Brittain intentionally shot him for the first time,” Forsyth said. Then he intentionally shot him three more times with the rifle while Winter was lying on his back — each time manually operating the rifle bolt to eject the empty cartridge.

The last shot was to Winter’s head and, according to an autopsy report, there were five gunshot wounds overall.

Then Brittain walked back to his car and drove three minutes to the Bank of Montreal, where he withdrew $200 from an ATM.

Then he drove to Cornwall Drive where the Wonches lived.

He opened the trunk of his vehicle, pulled out another gun and went to their garage where they were.

From six feet away, he fatally shot them multiple times, Forsyth said.

After shooting the Wonches, Brittain walked down their driveway and around the short fence that separates their property to the Knippelberg home.

He knocked, and when she answered she was shot twice.

“Then Brittain drove directly to the Penticton detachment of the RCMP located at 1168 Main Street, where he arrived at approximately 11:13 a.m.,” Forsyth said.

He then confessed: "I’m the guy who just shot four people."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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